It isn’t always easy, and it won’t always go forward as quickly as we may want it to, but a real path to reconciliation is available to us, and can be achieved if we learn to walk together into the future as partners, not others.
That’s the lesson that can be taken from Seven Generation Education Institute’s (SGEI) Dagwaagani-mawindoosijigewin, or Fall Harvest, usually held at the Fort Frances campus for two days in early October. The event brings school-aged children from around the district to the campus grounds in order for them to learn more about some of the traditional Anishinaabe ways of shoring up for the cold winter months.
As students wander the campus grounds, there are displays of deer and fish preparation, and rendering out important bear grease. They can learn about the sacred drum and its meaning, or help process wild rice from freshly harvested, to ready to eat. There are also thoughtful stations that teach students more about the Treaty that was signed 150 years ago, and the realities – and lingering impacts – of the residential school system.
Each of these displays is run by locals who share their wisdom and experience – the depth and breadth of experience that makes a complicated task look easy. Each station offers a chance to understand the ways things were, the way things are now, and, if we’re lucky, the way things can be in the future.
I am invited to the event to cover it for the paper, and though I’ve long had an interest in attending the event, this marks the first year I’ve been able to. As I take my initial lap around the grounds, I marvel as much at the various teachings taking place as I do the number of students that are surrounding each demonstration. Students are stomping rice, preparing deer meat, learning traditional Metis jigging, and more. I try to remember if I ever did these activities as a student in the same grades. I can’t remember, but I don’t think I did. I’m envious of them.
Rob Horton is the Anishinaabemowin Coordinator and Instructor at SGEI. After my tour of the different stations on the grounds, I sit down with him in a quiet section of the campus library. Horton is a soft-spoken, intensely intelligent man, and he shares freely of his deep knowledge. I ask him what the Fall Harvest event is all about, and he tells me it is primarily about two things.
“The purpose of Fall Harvest, number one, it is focusing on self-sustainability,” he says.
“Some people may call that food sovereignty, focusing on families being self-sufficient and harvesting right from the land. Number two, and maybe number two is just as important, it’s bringing to life the protected rights and promises under Treaty #3. This week on Tuesday was the 150th anniversary of ‘Manidoo Mazina’igan,’ the Spirit Paper, or Treaty #3. If you look at the negotiations of Treaty #3, you’ll see wild rice mentioned, berries, medicines, fish, animals, and if you look at all the stations here, they reflect acting upon those promised protected rights under Manidoo Mazina’igan. So we have self-sufficiency in one hand, and we have maintaining and honouring that treaty and keeping it alive in the other.”
Horton continues to explain that being self-sufficient in the ways demonstrated at the Fall Harvest event also demonstrates how the traditional ways of doing things have changed. At one station, students use special moccasins to stomp or jig, on wild rice, threshing the outer covers of the grain, just like it has been done for generations, but at another station across the way, fish is being deep fried over a propane-powered flame, which only dates back to the turn of the twentieth century.
“It’s using those skills that have been passed down, but also skills that have been picked up along the way, because no culture is static,” Horton says.
“Really, what food sovereignty means is ensuring self-sufficiency within not just the Anishinaabe nation, but for everybody. The Treaty is honouring everybody that’s here. Chief Sahkatcheway, he wasn’t a spokesperson but he was a very notable leader, and how he talked about Treaty #3 is taking the best of both worlds and putting them together. So right over there we have the Metis folks, we have traditions being continued, but we’ve innovated over the years in the tools and technologies that we use. It’s self-sufficiency and being creative in how we do it,” says Horton.
Circling through the Fall Harvest event, not only do I see a mixing of the old skills with the new, but the event is also a mixing of the Anishinaabe and the Western, as local Anishinaabe and Metis adults sharing their knowledge and skills with children of all backgrounds, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
“I think it really comes down to, we’re neighbours with each other, we’re part of the same community, we’re parts of this human family,” Horton said.
“Even beyond that, Anishinaabe history is Canadian history and vice versa. We can look at it through history perspectives, treaty and legal perspectives and it’s there. What I see here is that playing out; the cooperation, the sincerity of all the visitors who come to fall harvest. People are very open to learn, but also open to teach. Under each of these tents we have people with different proficiencies, some people are very skilled in parching the rice, or gill netting or working with deer. We all have something to share. We all have skills and proficiencies and when we’re here sharing this with each other, this is the continuation of not just Anishinaabe history but Canadian history collectively. The more we do this, the more we’re going to walk into the future together.”
Horton notes that the event has become popular enough that there are discussions of staff at other SGEI campuses hosting Fall Harvest events. Even locally, there’s always the possibility of expansion, with Horton saying he’d like to have a medicine station included in future events.
As my first time at the Fall Harvest event, it is overwhelming. I am overcome by the sights and smells, of the sounds of children laughing and deer meat frying over an open flame. I am enveloped by the knowledge that is at once ancient and modern, the collision of traditional methods and current technologies, the transformation of what was once ‘other’ into something known. And I am reassured by the sense that this event is representative of steps in the right direction, even if the destination, still, remains far off.
“There’s a saying that is really beautiful; ‘Even though we may not walk beside each other every day, we must always learn to walk together,’” Horton tells me.
“We are part of this human family, and when we see transfers of skills, transfers of knowledge, and sometimes even transfers of belief, we see that those different parts of this human family have so much to share with each other, and if we work together, if we cooperate, everybody wins.”